Napalm Death

support Brujeria + Power Trip + Lock Up
author AP date 25/04/17 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

With three out of four bands on the bill sharing members, a cynic might call tonight’s extreme metal extravaganza a bit of a circle-jerk. But remarkably, the performances turn out to be quite different from one another (for better or worse) in most aspects other than the fact that any semblance of melody is at a premium. The size of the turnout convinces me that grindcore still remains a rather acquired taste, but although the booker’s choice of venue was too ambitious in retrospect, at the very least one gets the feeling that most of the 500-or-so patrons in attendance are true connoisseurs of the genre.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Lock Up

Grindcore has never been my cup of tea but even so, the genre does hold a certain intrigue when it comes to experiencing it live — it tends to sound less mechanistic and totally out-of-control. The supergroup Lock Up, which is pieced together from Napalm Death’s Shane Embury on bass, Criminal’s Anton Reisenegger on guitar, Nicholas Barker of Cradle of Filth & Dimmu Borgir fame on drums and Kevin Sharp from the now-defunct Brutal Truth on vocals, certainly adheres to this idea, transforming the brutal, yet darkly melodic sound heard on their records into a terrifying deluge of noise which seems to paralyse the turnout here. Indeed, there is a clear dichotomy between the madness emanating from the PA and the inertia on the floor — no moshing and very little headbanging, with horns and cheers in between the songs the only sign that people do appreciate this stuff.

The four musicians look to be either content with or oblivious to the state of affairs though, playing with determination but also a kind of laissez faire attitude that never manages to connect with the audience. Sharp merrily recounts his past shenanigans in that southern accent of his before leaning back and shoving the microphone down his throat for a particularly deranged take on “Blood and Emptiness” off the band’s newly released “Demonization” LP. Other highlights include “Feeding on the Opiate”, which sees Embury handling his instrument with inhuman speed and precision, as well as the infectiously groovy “Plague That Stalks the Darkness”, which inspires pretty much the only bouts of headbanging during the half-hour set.

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Power Trip

Honestly, it was the addition of this Dallas, TX-based crossover act to the touring bill that decided it for me. A reputation of fieriness and vitriol precedes them and the flogging administered by their latest lesson in retro-thrash, “Nightmare Logic”, convinced me that the quintet was not to be missed. And as one suspected, the raw and unhinged feel of that record is perfectly suited for loosening upon live audiences from amidst the murk of a dimly lit stage. The five musicians play with a vengeance, milling their hair, pumping their fists, striking their instruments with excessive force and, in the case of vocalist Riley Gale, thrusting the microphone-stand at the crowd like a javelin. This band looks and sounds like they mean business, and when they whip out an intense rendition of “The Hammer of Doubt” off their 2013 LP, “Manifest Decimation”, the moshing and headbanging characteristics of the music seem, at last, to dawn on the audience. Like on the aforementioned records, the appeal of Power Trip live stems not from doing anything unexpected or particularly original, but from upping the ante in terms of ferocity and coming across as genuinely pissed off. Of course it also helps that guitarists Blake ‘Rossover’ Ibanez & Nick Stewart churn out such groovy and energising riffs en masse — the point is that Power Trip shows that they have an unusually tight grasp on what made hardcore punk and thrash so explosive back in the ‘80s.

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Brujeria

Scrutinising this mishmash of two Mexican, balaclava-donning vocalists and three quarters of Lock Up with squinting eyes, the most productive use of my brainpower seems to be the ranking of Attila, Brujeria and The Hell by order of stupidity. Where the other two acts at least bring a rudimentary sense of humour and some marginally enjoyable songs, there is nothing amusing about Brujeria’s portrayal of themselves as Mexican drug lords, nor their growl-rapping over a fundament of low-end chugging and s***ty breakdowns in Spanish. Outside of an attempt at accruing cheap points by referring to Donald Trump as the ‘orange pendejo’, most of the between-song banter is also delivered in the native tongue of these two gents, who go by the aliases ‘El Sangron’ and ‘Fantasma’, which means that whatever entertainment might be derived from Brujeria’s tongue-in-cheek act is completely lost on me. And once you have seen the frontmen beating their chests for the fiftieth time, not even the brandishing and swinging of a machete during the last song can bring me to find something positive to say about this lowest of common denominators.

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Napalm Death

Again, these Brummies’ music seldom, if ever rings in my earphones — grindcore is far too stressful to provide me with the inspiration or soothing that I want from my daily listening. But Napalm Death rarely disappoints live, and tonight is no exception. The band’s iconic vocalist, Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway, is lively and energetic as ever, twitching to the gatling rhythms of Danny Herrera’s drumming and skipping around the stage like it was made of lava. But of course, his energy is only part of the reason why many regard Barney as one of the best frontmen in metal; on top of that, the man is as chummy as they come, regarding his audience as old friends and equals rather than disciples. Over the 30+ years of Napalm Death’s existence, he has garnered a reputation as a keen political and social commentator, railing against injustice at every opportunity in his pleasant Brummy accent and using these diatribes as a kind of introduction to each song.

Watching Napalm Death thus feels both important and invigorating, and even if the genre is does not cater to one’s tastes, the experience of noticing all of the subtle changes and inroads that have defined the group’s sound over the past three decades gives them a kind of universal appeal. “Dear Slum Landlord…” off 2015’s “Apex Predator - Easy Meat”, for instance, brings drama, melody and atmosphere, while “The Kill” and “Suffer the Children”, both from the opposite end of Napalm Death’s career (their 1987 and ’90 albums, “Scum” & “Harmony Corruption”), expose the clear influence of thrash on the band’s sound early on. And toward the end of the set, the quartet flashes the actual artists that inspired them with a trio of covers comprising the Offenders’ “Face Down in the Dirt”, the rarely heard “Hate, Fear and Power” by Hirax and the Dead Kennedys’ classic “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, which more or less summarises Barney’s mindset when it comes to writing lyrics.

As far as the grindcore genre goes, Napalm Death continue to assert their dominance as one of the tightest and most exhilarating live acts available. The band has an accomplished, old-school vibe that makes their concerts feel like watching a well-produced documentary detailing the genre’s history, with Barney acting as a David Attenborough-style narrator. Mind you, he is only warm and forthcoming in between the songs; when the band lets loose one of the 24 blasts of cacophony included on the setlist tonight, he transforms into an utter maniac, striking a vivid contrast to his three compatriots, Embury, Herrera & guitarist and backing vocalist Mitch Harris, who prefer to stay where they are and look menacing. As it tends to be with grindcore, the music itself verges too much on monotony to really move me but even so, no one can have left this show unconvinced — Napalm Death are still the kings of grindcore.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Evolved as One
  • 02. It’s a M.A.N.S. World!
  • 03. Necessary Evil
  • 04. Smash a Single Digit
  • 05. Stunt Your Growth
  • 06. When All is Said and Done
  • 07. Stubborn Stains
  • 08. Scum
  • 09. The Kill
  • 10. Deceiver
  • 11. You Suffer
  • 12. From Enslavement to Obliteration
  • 13. The Code is Red… Long Live the Code
  • 14. Twist the Knife (Slowly)
  • 15. Quarantined
  • 16. Dear Slum Landlord…
  • 17. Christening of the Blind
  • 18. How the Years Condemn
  • 19. Suffer the Children
  • 20. If the Truth be Known
  • 21. Face Down in the Dirt (Offenders cover)
  • 22. Hate, Fear and Power (Hirax cover)
  • 23. Nazi Punks Fuck Off (Dead Kennedys cover)
  • 24. Adversarial/Copulating Snakes

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